Navel orangeworm (NOW) is the number one pest in almonds and pistachios. There are many tools to monitor and control it, and ironically, one tool is making it difficult for researchers to understand the pressure in the orchards. Joel Siegel, a research entomologist with USDA ARS in Parlier in Fresno County, spoke with California Ag Today about the issues in NOW monitoring.
“One of the problems now is so many people are using mating disruption that it’s shutting down the pheromone traps, so I don’t have reliable trap data anymore. I have my own traps. Most of them are at zero,” Siegel said. “That could mean no caught navel orangeworm adults.”
“I have some traps that are catching, so I would tell people that the population is on the upswing now. We’re coming up to 2700 degree-days in a lot of locations,” he said.
That degree-day number represents the amount of accumulated heat units, or higher temperatures to push the pest to a new generation. NOW mating disruption is a strategy where the female pheromone is spread through the orchard through special aerosol emitters, and the widespread pheromone confuses the males because of the high pheromone concentration and thus, no mating.
“When you have mating disruption nearby, it interferes with the NOW traps,” he said.
The pheromone trap attracts males to it and gives researchers an idea of the concentration of the males in the orchard. No trapping of males? Then you really don’t know the numbers in the orchard.
“The PCAs are going back to a lot of their traditional methods, such as egg traps instead,” Siegel said. “Time will tell if navel orangeworm pressure is great this year.”
Last year was a bad year for navel orangeworm (NOW) mainly in pistachios, but also in almonds. If left in the trees, infested nuts become a great reservoir for more NOW to inhabit them.
Joel Siegel, a research entomologist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service based in Parlier, stresses the importance of having a good sanitation plan in place to remove those NOW mummy nuts. “When we talk about sanitation, it should be the foundation for everyone’s nut program. That’s something that you control.”
“In almonds, it’s absolutely essential. Where we’ve taken a look at it in the south, every infected mummy per tree is good for 1 percent damage. So going from one mummy to two mummies, your damage on average increases another 1 percent.”
“It’s also important to destroy the mummies on the ground. You figure, for every eight or nine mummies on the ground, that’s good for about a half a percent increase in damage. Get them off the tree and shred the almonds.”
Siegel noted that while pistachio growers can clear mummy nuts off the tree, the industry has not been able to shred the fallen pistachios effectively. The hard, rounded pistachio shells just bounce around in the shredder machine.
“What you can do is shake them off the tree as soon as possible so they’re on the ground where they can start rotting. You get those weeds growing around them. It has been shown that they break down faster in the weeds,” said Siegel.
“Growers disc them in. But if you’re going to disc them in, you have to disc them twice. Again, you’re not destroying the nuts, you are burying them so that NOW cannot lay eggs in the spring,” he said.
The risk of poor sanitation is high. Considerable NOW damage can prevent pistachio and almond growers from earning the premium paid for nuts that are pest-free.
Joel Siegel: Beware of Navel Orangeworm Over Next Few Weeks
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Associate Editor
Joel Siegel, research entomologist with USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in the Parlier office in Fresno County, is worried about Navel Orangeworm (NOW) pressure on almonds, pistachios and walnuts this season, “because we have this pattern of hotter winters, warmer springs. And, there is more than enough degree-day accumulation for an extra generation of NOW, compared to what people were dealing with four years ago. And with that, there’s the potential—if you are not on top of things—for it get out of hand.”
Those higher temperatures, he says, are what the worms desire, “Temperature—you can think of it as fuel—fuel for the fire. So the faster the generation time, the more they can start overlapping and possibly resulting in an extra generation, prolonged pressure, and at the tail-end, more NOW going into the next season as well. So you have this cycle that keeps on increasing,” says Siegel.
In describing the different monitoring and spray strategies for the each nut crop, Siegel says, “Well, with pistachios, hull split is not as predictable, so if you have hull integrity maintained, there is less NOW pressure because the nuts are not vulnerable. Navel Orangeworm seems to find pistachios once that hull begins to split. If hull break-down occurs earlier, you are dealing with more pressure.”
“On walnuts,” he explains, “people have been harvesting them later, going into September and October. So, if sun damage or anything else has damaged the hull in these late varieties, NOW will find these nuts as well. So, growers are experiencing higher pressure with late harvest walnuts.”
“NOW management timing is a bit more obvious for almonds,” Siegel explains. “That hull split spray is probably the most critical spray application, plus the new crop nuts are increasingly becoming more vulnerable to NOW. When that hull begins to open seems to be when this moth really notices the almonds.”
Siegel states, “One problem with almonds in particular, is that drought stress may cause prolonged hull-split that is not synchronous within an orchard. You’ll see NOW on the edges and the middle of the orchard, for example, just out of sync. So growers are having to apply an extra spray to treat all of their nuts the first time, and that is a relatively new phenomenon.”
“Second,” he says, “some people get burned in almonds, as they are used to the NOW pressure they encountered two to three years ago when they were not dealing with that extra generation. So they’ve only been applying this single spray; whereas, currently, many people need to do a hull-split spray followed by a post-hull-split spray.” And the way this season is progressing, growers may need to do this second spray over the next ten days.
“With pistachios,” Siegel notes, “these NOW generations are building. And because of the high economic value of pistachios, people are doing a second, or even a third shake. So if you have a scenario in which your crop is not synchronous in development, a lot of nuts become available late in the season, just when the NOW population is high as well. So that last 20% of the pistachio crop is where a great deal of damage is occurring.”
Navel Orangeworm does so much damage to the kernels that many processors are offering price premiums to growers for pistachios with less than 1% damage. Siegel clarifies, “I’m assuming that is the goal of increased subsidies; to help offset either the cost of increased insecticide applications or to offset the cost of puffers for mating disruption.”
Siegel notes some unique NOW attributes, “They are very good at eating a lot of different things. People don’t realize that although these different nut commodities—almonds, pistachios, and walnuts—have chemicals that help protect them from insects, this worm is very good at detoxifying or eliminating these protective chemicals. So, NOW is able to pressure many different crops and moldy fruit, so that any moldy mummies on the ground can serve as food for Navel Orangeworms. This is why sanitation is so critically important.”
Siegel says California tree nut growers are well-known for their high quality product, and this excellent reputation must be maintained. “Pistachios are a valuable crop,” Siegel says. “Growers must balance these advantages, talk with their processors, and look at how aggressive their pest management practices need to be.”
“The reality,” he continues, “is that a lot of people did quite well last year, and their damage was quite acceptable. So again, my advice is to stay the course; if you are happy with your results, continue to do the things that made you happy. If you got stung a little bit, consider adding sanitation or an additional spray.”
Finally, Siegel summarizes, “The California advantage is a quality nut crop that is high in demand. I assume that quality is never static; it always has to improve and respond to the market. As processors continue to pay premiums, they will expect nuts of a certain quality, and that will be the challenge for growers’ management strategies.”
(Featured Photo: Almond damaged by navel orangeworm larvae, UC ANR)